There comes a time in a doctoral student’s life wherein they have to qualify to keep going on toward a dissertation. Usually it takes the form of an exam on a comprehensive list of materials. I find these lists useful and interesting not only for how they frame a field of inquiry for a person’s diss, but also how they function as snapshots of what academia looked like for a particular student at a particular time. In assembling my list (my exam’s in September), I found other folks’ lists immensely helpful in thinking about scope, framing, and blind spots. Maybe you’ll find mine to be too.
I also wrote a few paragraphs contextualizing this list when I submitted it for departmental approval. I’m including these here so you can get a better sense of my rationale for selecting what I selected, as well as the projects it’s priming me for:
This list attempts to do two things: first, to offer my articulation of digital studies as a field of inquiry; and second, to situate digital studies in relationship to critical questions emerging from the turn to the Anthropocene in literary and media studies. Inasmuch as the list presents a cogent argument, it might be that a digital studies in and for the Anthropocene can help us understand technology’s role in the production of material and political realities that intensify our present ecological and epistemic crisis, as well as tactics by which we can counter or imagine beyond such a crisis.
My version of digital studies begins from a media studies tradition that predates the emergence of digital computing in the mid-twentieth century. In its theoretical grounding, it shares significant terrain with contemporary cinema and media studies, from roots in the Marxist materialist critiques of the Frankfurt school, through mid-century Anglophone studies of media and technology as constitutive parts of everyday life. Given digital technology’s proliferation now into most aspects of contemporaneity, my digital studies centers the technical object itself as the subject of analysis. This unabashedly materialist approach grounds this list’s interest in media archaeology and technological infrastructures. Digital studies also attends to the capacity for networking technologies to produce and mediate relations between people, machines, and environments.
Within this field, I am interested in how digital technologies and those who wield them create and respond to the present crisis in ecological and materialist thought those of us in the humanities (and to certain extent the sciences and the public more generally) call the “Anthropocene.” Defining the Anthropocene is in many ways trickier than defining digital studies. It is a slippery concept that ramifies through technology, geology, public policy, ecology, and literary criticism. My articulation of the Anthropocene draws heavily from science and technology studies as well as recent work in speculative and new materialist philosophy. While the environmental humanities leaves a lingering footprint on this list, my investment in the Anthropocene as a generative concept is more about approaching it as a crisis for imagining futurity than for marking the flows of electronic waste and rising atmospheric carbon. As such, a digital studies in the Anthropocene marks an occasion for thinking interdisciplinarily about the role of digital technologies in the work of worlding—of speculating on and imagining possible futures.